07 July 2010

Vince Gray on IZ, New Communities, and rent control—oh my!

Both jaime and IMGoph contributed to this post.

We sat down with Vince Gray at Ben's Chili Bowl on Monday, along with DCist, We Love DC, and Borderstan for the first "Blogger Roundtable" discussion of his mayoral campaign. Gray's stated goal is to unite residents in "One City," and he noted that while DC is currently "very divided by geography, age, gender, and race," ultimately "people have got to feel like there's a place for them." While education, economic development, and workforce education are pieces of this puzzle, without suitable and ample housing for all, we will continue to struggle as a divided city.

Gray noted that he pushed for inclusionary zoning from the start of the two-and-a-half year struggle to get the regulation on the books, working through one emergency legislation after another while the Fenty administration delayed implementation. Lamenting the loss of potentially hundreds of affordable housing units during the hold-up, Gray says that if elected mayor, he will "aggressively implement" IZ.

Another housing issue we discussed was rent control. Under current legislation, which Gray co-sponsored, rent control is up for re-authorization every five years. Gray promised that, as mayor, he would work to make rent control permanent, (ed. note—Lydia DePillis reported on this today at the City Paper's Housing Complex blog) though he acknowledged it could potentially be challenged as unconstitutional.

Avoiding displacement is perhaps one of the most daunting challenges to housing equity. Under federal programs like HOPE VI, new mixed-income, and sometimes multi-use, developments are built with the intention of providing homes for both current and new residents of the community. A hiccup comes when low-income residents "temporarily" move to make room for new construction. Under the New Communities Initiative—established at the end of Anthony Williams' administration—Barry Farm (Ward 8), Lincoln Heights/Richardson Dwellings (Ward 7), Northwest One (Ward 6) and Park Morton (Ward 1) are to "transform [from] highly concentrated low-income neighborhoods into healthy mixed-income neighborhoods." Perhaps the most important component of this initiative is the guiding principle of "build first" which "calls for new housing on publicly-controlled lands to be built prior to the demolition of existing distressed housing to minimize displacement."

When asked how best to retain current residents while improving housing, education, and economic opportunities, Gray pointed immediately to New Communities. While not a new initiative, it is one we seem to have lost track of as the economic boom turned into a bust. The reality is that while most of us are facing challenges in the current climate, many residents in our city who were struggling at the peak are in further distress now. Gray, at least on the campaign trail, is able to recognize this gulf that continues to divide DC, and he seems to be genuinely interested to continue to push for solutions that have been staring us in the face for years now. Issues like inclusionary zoning, rent control, and New Communities are all ways the city can help bridge that gulf—they just need to truly be championed in order to work. It will take serious sustained effort from all the city's leadership to accomplish these goals.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

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